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R E M A R K A B L E T E ACH E R 23 March 2018 | Professionally Speaking PHOTOS: RAINA & WILSON Funny man (and former teacher) Gerry Dee pays tribute to the person who taught him how to stand up and deliver, one joke at a time. BY BILL HARRIS A lthough Gerry Dee jokes around for a living, one thing he'd like to be clear about is the difference between the teacher he once was and the one he portrays on TV. "I wasn't the character you see on Mr. D," says the creator and star of the CBC sitcom, in which he plays a teacher whose ego often gets in the way of his best intentions. "When I was teaching, I was, in many ways, trying to emulate a former teacher I admired." Dee, whose career path has been unconventional but successful, was a teacher for nine years before shifting his energies toward his other passion, comedy. From whom did he draw his approach to teaching? That would be Joseph Onorati, OCT, his Grade 8 teacher at St. Gabriel Catholic School in Toronto. "With Joe, you think, 'Wow, that person was really great,' even if you didn't notice it as a student," recalls Dee, who went by his real last name (Donoghue) in those days. "Joe was the right balance of three things. First, he was someone we admired. Second, he had a sense of humour and knew when to use it. And, third, he was strict and simply got the job done. Embodying all of those things — as I learned when I was teaching — is rare." Dee recalls the respect he had for Onorati, regardless of how playful or serious his teach- er had to be in the classroom — he navigated all situations in a fair and balanced manner. "Joe was no softie, he ran a tight ship, but he was the kind of teacher you didn't want to disappoint," Dee says. "There were times when he had to discipline me but I still liked him. I knew he liked me but I also knew I could be a bit much." Onorati chuckles upon hearing those words. "When Gerry says I liked him, he's absolutely correct," says the retired teacher. "It's great to be valued by someone like him." Having worked in education for more than 35 years, Onorati has encountered hundreds of students in the classroom, as well as when he was vice-principal and principal at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. During that time, he also had part-time positions at the York University faculty of education as a Principals' Qualification Program facilitator (2005–10) and a practicum facilitator (2011–17), mentoring pre-service teacher candidates. D E E - C O N S T R U C T I N G

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